Three projects will receive a share of £9.13 million in government funding to carry out research and development to increase agricultural productivity, sustainably and climate resilience.
The funding comes through the Large R&D Partnership competition, part of the government’s £270 million Farming Innovation Programme, with the second round currently open for applications.
The Agri-Opencore project, led by APS Produce, has been awarded over £3.8 million to accelerate the delivery of robotic crop systems for horticulture. The funding will be used to deliver the first open development platform (both for software and hardware) for robotic crop harvesting.
The open platform will enable multiple companies to contribute for cross-sector collaboration. It’s hoped that this project will accelerate the adoption of robotic picking units by two years.
Phil Pearson, from APS Produce, said: “The Agri-Opencore robotics project is an exciting, and vital project for the fresh produce industry. It promises to deliver the significant progress required to automate fresh produce harvesting in the UK. As this work brings leading technology providers, Dogtooth, Xihelm and Wootzano, with the academic excellence of the University of Lincoln team, we can expect significant progress towards autonomous harvesting.”
AG ARC, led by Garnett Farm Engineering, has been awarded more than £2.5 million towards the development of an autonomous cow cubical bedding unit. The system will monitor and respond to sensor data to optimise the dispensing of bedding materials to boost cow health and welfare.
Andrew Garnett, of AG Products, said: “We look forward to collaborating with the University of Liverpool on this exciting project to further enhance our cattle bedding solutions to farmers, improving cow welfare and productivity. Our passion for innovation has seen the recent launch of the AG Duo; the AG ARC will further revolutionise the industry’s approach to cattle bedding.”
The Potato-LITE project has received more than £2.8 million to explore optimised potato cultivation. This project will be delivered through various partners across food processing (PepsiCo and McCain), manufacturers (Grimme), growers (Strawson Ltd, JRO Griffiths, H Sutton & Son and JM Bubb & Son) and research organisations (Cranfield University, Harper Adams University and CHAP).
It aims to reduce the depth, intensity and number of operations required to establish a potato crop, improve soil health and reduce the environmental impact of production.
Shaunagh Slack, project lead for Potato-LITE, PepsiCo, said: “At PepsiCo, agriculture is core to our business and we believe that sustainable agricultural practices are pivotal in protecting and enhancing our natural resources. Through Potato-LITE, we have a unique opportunity to form a leading industry and academic partnership to transform potato tillage and quantify the benefits on soil health and greenhouse gas emissions. This four-year research project will enable the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices among UK farming communities as we work towards a net zero future.”
The competition is part of the government’s commitment to spend £600 million to provide support to farmers for investment in productivity, animal health and welfare, innovation, research and development over three years. It is funded from the annual farming budget (£2.4 billion), which is been maintained for the rest of the current Parliament.
Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “It’s important that we fund projects like these – and those still to come in future rounds – as we support farmers to deliver sustainable food production and protect the environment.
“Innovation, research and development will help keep the sector at the cutting edge of technology as we look into the future.”
Katrina Hayter, interim executive director of healthy living & agriculture, Innovate UK, said: “These projects have all demonstrated not only an innovative solution to a real-life, on-farm problem but also the value of partnerships and collaboration between different sector experts. For novel technology to truly succeed, it needs the input of the farmers themselves for the day-to-day realities of its use.
“We’re really pleased that these partnerships have this idea at their core, and we now look forward to working with them as they develop their solutions further and bring the benefits to life.”